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John Chambers returns to his alma mater

When you have the track record of success John Chambers has, it can become a big deal when he returns to his alma mater. The former president, CEO and chairman of the board at Cisco Systems makes a big splash when he is on campus at West Virginia University, and last spoke here in 2012.

He addressed the university community again on October 27, prompting hundreds to pack into the Mountainlair Ballrooms at WVU’s student union. And Chambers, as usual, did not disappoint in his presentation entitled “The New Digital Era and the Implications for Education.” He challenged WVU and the state to invest in innovation with resources and visionary thinking, components he believes are the components of historic, significant change.

“You have to have the courage to reinvent yourself, even if it’s uncomfortable,” said Chambers, a 1971 finance graduate of the College of Business and Economics and a 1974 WVU Law grad. “We/West Virginia need to reinvent ourselves and become the first digital startup state. It begins with creating an innovation ecosystem right here at home.”

Over the course of 20 years leading Cisco, the man raised in Charleston, West Virginia, helped grow the company from $70 million to $1.2 billion when he assumed the role of CEO, to $47 billion when he stepped down in 2015. Since that time, he has served Cisco as executive chairman, which he will continue through the end of this year — when all indicators point to his being a fulltime innovator.

Chambers is the chairman of the newly formed U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Inc. and is a member of the board of directors for Airware, OpenGov, Pindrop and Sprinklr. His interest in startups is evident, as he told students to “be bold” and “think big.”

“John Chambers is one of the historically important influencers of worldwide IT and networking, and was one of the architects of the infrastructure that now allows people, companies and organizations to connect, communicate and collaborate with each other in the digital era,” said Javier Reyes, Milan Puskar Dean, WVU College of Business and Economics. “His contributions and accomplishments have helped transform these essential components of our everyday lives, and he continues to influence the direction they will take in the future.”

“Educating and re-skilling our current and next generation workforce with digital skills for the future is more important today in the Digital Era,” Chambers said. “Digitization is one economic promise that holds true and is the foundation for inclusive growth around the world. WVU taught me that there is no limit to what you can achieve in life with the right education.”

And he challenged students to step up to the plate.

“Why can’t West Virginia be the place for startups?” he asked the crowded ballrooms. “Do you have what it takes to dream the big dream?”

Chambers College